Dowry a social evil, but change has to come from society, says SC; refers plea to law commission

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court, law, supreme court, SC, Chandrachud, Bopanna

The Supreme Court Monday said dowry is a social evil and there is no doubt about it but change has to come from within the society as to how a woman is treated and how people regard the woman who comes into the family. The top court referred the plea on the issue to the law commission and said that there are restraints on the jurisdiction of this Court under Article 32 of the Constitution to craft remedies which essentially require legislative reforms.

A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and A S Bopanna, while disposing of the PIL said, “A dialogue on considering what measures would support the existing legislation on the subject can be initiated. It is in this backdrop that we are of the view that it may be appropriate if the Law Commission of India considers the issue in all its perspectives. The petitioners are at liberty to submit a note of research and on all relevant aspects for the benefit of the Law Commission”.

The bench further said, “Law reforms is a necessity but a change has to come from within the society as to how we treat a woman, how the society regards a woman, who comes into the family, how the social life of a woman is evolved. This concerns the social basic value of a marriage as an institution. This is about a social change, which the reformers have written about and are continuing to do so”.

The bench said there is no doubt that dowry is a social evil but the prayers made in the petition, to designate a dowry prohibition officers like done in case of Right to Information Act, this court cannot do it.

“The RTI officer is designated under the central legislation. The second prayer is for seeking direction to make jewellery and other properties given during marriages be in the name of women for at least seven years. This is a valid prayer and the legislature will look into it very seriously,” the bench told advocate V K Biju, appearing for petitioner Sabu Sebastian and others.

It added that the prayer made in the plea is about constituting curriculum commissions for a proper pre-marriage course, involving legal experts, educationists, and psychologists, so that the couple goes pre-marriage counselling prior to entering the marriage and making this course compulsory for marriage.

“You must know that there are some communities in the country which practice this system of counselling. You can make all these suggestions to the law commissions so that it can make appropriate recommendations to the government to strengthen the law,” the bench said.

Biju contended that a similar matter is pending before another court and this matter can also be tagged along with that as he is disturbed with the recent incidents happening in Kerala where so much jewellery and gold is being given during marriages.

“Children of poor and daily wagers will suffer, if this practice is not stopped,” he said, adding that recently a police officer was suspended for not acting in a dowry case of a doctor and hence court can issue notice on third prayer of curriculum commission.

The bench said, “The third prayer is the most difficult one. Whole of India does not reside in Kochi of Kerala or any other cities of Delhi or Kolkata but in villages. You would not find experts in villages for these commissions, and you will have to go to the cities for the pre-marriage course. It will have serious consequences, as a hapless woman from village marriage would not be registered, just because she has not undergone the course.”

The top court said that these are all matters for the legislature to take notice and only it can amend the existing laws to give them more teeth like it was done in the case SC/ST Act.

Justice Bopanna said nothing will come out of the notice and the law commission can look into the suggestions and appropriately make the recommendations to the government to strengthen the law.

“We are telling you what the better option is. What is important is creating awareness to make people sensitive to these issues. You will be wasting time in the courts after the notice is issued,” Justice Bopanna said, adding that law commission recourse will at least set in motion the process for reforms.

The bench noted in its order, invoking the jurisdiction of this Court under Article 32 of the Constitution, that the first and second petitioners – who are social activists – and the third petitioner, who is a lawyer practicing before the Supreme Court, have sought certain concrete directions in order to curb the social evil of dowry.

It said the plea highlighted that while Parliament has stepped in by enacting penal provisions, such as Sections 304B and Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code 1860, the Dowry Prohibition Act 1961 and the National Commission for Women has been constituted, the wide prevalence of the social evil requires a fresh look to give more teeth to the legislation.

The bench added that during the course of the hearing, the Court has indicated that the reliefs which have been sought in the above terms pertain to the realm of legislative policy.

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